The humble shepherd’s hut. They look simple and fairly unassuming, and you would be right from the outside.
But a shepherd’s hut offers a very versatile space for the owner and has multiple uses in modern times. This differs to how a shepherd’s hut was used in the past where it had one main job.
So let’s take a look at what exactly a shepherd hut is and what they are used for.
Shepherd’s hut history
The shepherd’s hut, sometimes known as a shepherd’s wagon, has been in use since the 16th century, mainly in the UK and France. Built onto four iron wheels for mobility, the shepherd’s hut would be a small cabin measuring around 12ft by 6ft.
As you might have guessed from the name, the main use of the hut was by shepherds and farmers as a practical place to shelter and stay over whilst raising sheep and guarding flocks. Although designs would vary slightly, the hut would act as a bedroom, kitchen, dining room, sitting room, workplace and storeroom all rolled into one.
The first evidence of a shepherd’s hut on wheels first appeared in Leonard Mascal’s 1596 work entitled ‘Government of Cattel’. He describes the shepherd’s hut as a “cabbin going upon a wheele for to remove here and there at his pleasure” – a great explanation that still stands today, although many huts now remain in a stationary position.
At the height of use during the 1800s, a shepherd’s hut would be a regular sight throughout the rural land of the UK and a crucial part of Britain’s agricultural history. By the mid-1900s many huts lay abandoned due to the arrival of mechanised farming, including the advent of the tractor, large scale production of chemical fertilisers and electricity, leaving many traditional farming methods behind, including the need for a shepherd to have a mobile place to rest.
Nowadays shepherd’s huts are used but for wide range of purposes. Particularly popular uses for shepherd’s huts include on the holiday glamping market, as a work shop, a luxury retreat, garden office and even a full time home.
What does a traditional shepherd’s hut look like?
Traditionally, shepherd’s huts were made from corrugated iron side panels, a corrugated iron roof and set on four cast iron wheels. Each hut would have a draw-bar for easy transportation around a farm or countryside. Notice the smaller front wheels on the image above, which is to aid maneuverability.
Other materials have of course also been used to construct a shepherd’s hut. After World War One, metal was in short supply throughout the UK, so wood was used as a material to build the chassis and also for the hut cladding. These would be built from interlocking plants of larch or spruce, two types of tree to have been introduced and planted in forests throughout the UK for their timber-use.
Traditionally, curved corrugated iron would be used to make the roof to allow rainwater to run off, but sometimes the roof would be made from felt and insulated with lambswool to help keep heat within the living space.
For the wheels, it was quite natural to use recycled cast iron wheels from other farm machinery that were surplus to requirements. As many huts were set quite high up (depending on the size of the wheels), huts often required a step, or number of steps, leading up to the main entrance.
Usually, these steps would be narrow and fairly unsteady, especially when a farmer had an armful of sheep.
Inside a traditional shepherd’s hut
- Bed along the rear or at one side (for narrower huts) with a straw mattress
- Fold out table
- Storage box containing tools and medicines
- A stove for cooking and warmth. This would be set on a heavy steel plate to prevent fire accidents
- A window at each side to see the flock
- Lambing cage
- Hinged main door
- Cast iron wheels for portability
What is a shepherd’s huts used for today?
As the shepherd’s hut has ventured into the modern world, they have developed to more like a mini timber-framed house on wheels rather than a ‘hut’ or ‘shed’ – the former a term that is strongly frowned up amongst shepherd hut aficionados. It now often fits into the growing tiny home and small living categories.
To be consider a shepherd’s hut, it must still be rectangular cuboid in shape, with a curved corrugated roof and set up off the ground on iron wheels – the steps heading up to the hut are now wider and sturdier for increased stability, sometimes with a veranda or decked area outside the main entrance.
Most manufacturers try to use similar material to give each building the shepherd’s hut look, this include plenty of wood work, sometimes using reclaimed timber for the vintage look, and iron – however it’s more common to see steel being used.
The inside of a shepherd’s hut is completely different from that where a shepherd would stay looking after his flock.
For a UK holiday break, countryside getaway or even an indefinite stay, huts are now fully insulated and contain almost everything you need to live comfortably for the foreseeable, including a toilet and en-suite bathroom. To accommodate this, they have had to grow in size by a few feet in comparison to their historical cousins.
Due to their versatility, modern huts are used for anything and everything – from a luxury holiday let on the rental market complete with a hot tub, to an home office in the garden, up-market coffee huts and food trailers.
If you have a business idea and need a cool, small space, a shepherd’s hut could be your answer.
Features of a modern shepherd’s hut
- A double bed – either length ways at one end (depending on the width) or a pull-out
- Fold out table
- Wood burning stove – often essential for a romantic getaway
- Small sofa/seating area
- Mini-kitchen, equipped with sink, kettle and cupboards
- En-suite hut bathroom, equipped with shower, sink basin and toilet
- Electrical devices such as televisions and WiFi depend on the owner or how ‘off-grid’ the hut is
- Eco-friendly heating
- Corrugated iron cladding or wood panelled cladding (don’t forget your eco friendly wood protector)
You can take a closer look at these amazing shepherd’s hut interiors to get an idea of what they can look like.
How big is a shepherd’s hut?
A traditional shepherd’s hut measures in at 12 foot long (3.6m) and 6-7 foot wide (2.2m). The main reason for this strict sizing was so farmers could fit the hut through the farm gates.
Now huts are all manner of shapes and sizes, ranging from more traditional inspired huts to full-on homes with size often depending on the use of the hut.
The dimensions of a modern shepherd’s hut can go up to 20ft + in length. By today’s standards, a 12ft hut would be considered small and maybe used as a garden retreat, writers hut or basic holiday offering. Shepherd’s hut length usually starts at 12″ as a minimum but can go all the way up 24ft long. The smaller huts will be at least 1.5 tonnes in weight with the big, top of the range huts weighing up to 3-4 tonnes.
Luxury huts, such as this one at Brosterfield Farm or this one at Benllech, with a fixed double bed at one end, kitchen and living space in the middle and an en-suite toilet and shower room at the other end would start from 16″ long to be able to fit everything in.
In terms of style, almost every hut is unique to the maker. Some manufacturers have a range of basic hut styles they build to with a multitude of extras and add-ons depending on the specific requirements of the buyer. You might want to head over to this post to see some unbelievable shepherd’s hut interiors.
I hope now that you’ve got a clear picture of what a shepherd’s hut is and what these wonderful little buildings are commonly used for.
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Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.
Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.